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What Everyone Should Know about Past Continuous

In: How to August 15th, 2016

Edgar Allan Poe once said: “A man's grammar, like Caesar's wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity”. Indeed, correct usage of various grammar forms including the most complicated ones has always been the distinctive feature of the real English language pro with rich and full-blooded style of writing. Recently, here in our blog our expert editing team launched the grammar marathon, under which we have prepared the series of posts on different most popular grammar topics many English non-native speakers often experience troubles with. Previously we already discussed the hidden pitfalls and traps of Future Perfect tense, dared to face such a dreadful grammar monster as Future Perfect Continuous and went on a rapid-fire pace ride towards perfect understanding of Past Simple. Now it’s time to continue with our twelve grammar labors of Hercules and throw down the gauntlet to another English grammar Bandersnatch. As you may already know from the blogpost heading, our target for today is one of the most commonly used grammar forms that, as the experience shows, often cause too much troubles among foreign students that aren’t English native speakers. Now, let me introduce you to the Past Continuous tense also known as Past Progressive! Please make it feel welcome. I hope after reading this post you will become best friends forever. And now let us gather our wits and answer the perennial question: what everyone should know about Past Continuous.

Learning Past Continuous Inside Out. Ultimate Grammar Guide

Past Continuous form belongs to the grammar tenses most commonly used in the colloquial speech. It means that while poor understanding or incorrect usage of, for example, Future Perfect Continuous, which is used in colloquial speech extremely rare, sometimes may be pardonable and may not cause the serious consequences for a hapless speaker, the mistakes in formation or usage of Past Continuous would be a really miserable excuse for a student. Although being of relatively easy nature, surprisingly this tense often becomes quite a big challenge for non-native speakers trying to master the English grammar, especially for those, whose native language does not include continuous grammar aspect, such as Chinese, Slavic languages, et cetera. Now we have prepared this super easy short guide on what everyone should know about Past Continuous including the basic rules and exceptions of its usage with examples in order to help our readers in mastering this grammar form. Here we go.

Past Continuous: How It Is Formed

Past Continuous grammar form belongs to the so called continuous grammar aspects (sometimes also called progressive) and is used to express an action that took place in a particular past moment or an action ongoing till specific time in the past. The Past Continuous verb form basically consists of two main components: auxiliary verb ‘to be’ in the past form and present participle (also called gerund) of the main verb.

Positive Statements:

The Positive statements in the Past Continuous tense are generally made using the verb form ‘was’ for subjects ‘I’, ‘He’, ‘She’, ‘It’ and the verb form ‘were’ for subjects ‘You’, ‘We’, ‘They’ followed by main verb with –ing ending for all the subjects.

Subject + was/were + present participle (verb+ing)

For example:

You were editing your essay at 11 p.m. last night.

She was sleeping at 11 p.m. last night because she ordered super easy essay editing service.

I was hanging out with my friends at 11 p.m. last night for the same reason.

Negative Statements:

Negative statements in Past Continuous are made by simply putting auxiliary verbs ‘was’/‘were’ into negative form.

Subject + was not (wasn’t)/were not (weren’t) + present participle (verb+ing)

For example:

You weren’t sleeping at 1 a.m. yesterday because you were still working on that essay.

I wasn’t sleeping at 1 a.m. yesterday because I was celebrating an excellent feedback on my paper.

She wasn’t sleeping at 1 a.m. yesterday because she was drinking another cup of coffee.

Interrogative Statements

The interrogative statements (questions) in the Past Continuous are made by the following formula:

Was/were + subject + present participle (verb+ing)?

For example:

Were you sleeping yesterday at 6 a.m.?

Was he eating his breakfast yesterday at 6 a.m.?

Was she drinking her cup of coffee yesterday at 6 a.m.?

See? It’s as easy as it can be.

Past Continuous: When to Use?

Past Continuous is used to describe an incomplete or unfinished action in the past that is ongoing at the specific moment of time. To put it in other words, it expresses an action that started before the specific moment, but has not finished at that moment. For example:

I was working on my paper last night. I started at 4 p.m. and finished at 11 p.m.

Therefore, pay particular attention to the adverbial modifiers of time in the sentence. If you notice an indication of the specific moment of time like 5 p.m., 7 o’clock, et cetera, it’s an unmistakable sign of that you have to use the verb in Past Continuous form there.

Past Continuous is also usually used to ‘set the scene’, i.e. describe the background in the story written in the past tense. For example:

He was walking through the empty streets of the city. It was raining heavily. The wind was hauling in the dark alley. He was smoking another cigarette, when he suddenly heard a gunshot.

As you can see from the example above, such background description in Past Continuous usually moves into Past Simple, when the specific action starts.

Past Continuous is also often used together with Past Simple to describe an action interrupted by other action in the past.

For example: I was sleeping peacefully, when someone started to knock on my door. Or: The suspect disappeared, while police was driving to the crime scene.

Past Continuous is also widely used to express a change of one’s mind. For example:

I was going to edit my essay by myself, but then decided to order editing service.

Finally, another common case of Past Continuous usage is making highly polite requests, such as:

I was wondering if you could substitute me for a night shift today.

Have Any Problems Left? Don’t Be Shy to Use our Help!

We hope this easy short guide will be helpful for you to better understand the Past Continuous tense. Although, if you have any problems left, don’t be shy to use our professional help. Our team provides expert revision, editing and proofreading services for those who experience any troubles with English grammar or just live up to the principle that it’s better be safe than sorry. Feel free to contact our support team for more detailed information and don’t forget to check our blog for more useful grammar tips and tricks.

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